SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — A meeting with Border Patrol representatives didn’t go as expected for a group of advocates trying to save a public gathering spot along the San Diego-Tijuana border known as Friendship Park.
Advocates sought a 120-day delay for the proposed construction of two 30-foot walls to replace existing barriers on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean, but no compromise was reached.
The fencing there now, according to Border Patrol, is not safe for the public, migrants or the agents who patrol the area and that’s why the new structures are necessary.
It’s within these walls, in the so-called “enforcement zone,” that the public had been allowed to enter and meet family and friends who gather on the south side of the border wall.
Traditionally, Border Patrol agents open a gate for a couple of hours on weekends, so people can go in.
The practice was stopped as the pandemic began, and it has not resumed since.
Advocates, including a group that calls itself Friends of Friendship Park, worried the renovation project would not include a gate, essentially meaning an end to public access and a tradition that dates back several decades.
But it appears the Border Patrol and engineers behind the project have made a concession allowing for a gate.
“They have commented there will be a pedestrian gate but it will only open when it’s operationally feasible, and so, even though they have a gate it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be open to the public,” said Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee and a member of Friends of Friendship Park.
Rios said he was involved in Wednesday evening’s meeting with Border Patrol representatives.
“Now they know it’s not only Friends of Friendship Park, there are many other stakeholders that would want to have an opinion about how Friendship Park should look like,” he said.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the work includes replacing approximately 0.6 miles of deteriorated primary and secondary barrier located adjacent to Friendship Circle in Imperial Beach, California.
Rios stated they were hopeful Border Patrol would agree to postpone the project while more public input is generated and submitted.
“Input is absolutely important with any project impacting our region including border walls that bisect our communities,” said Rios. “They said they will take this up to the secretary of Homeland Security to consider it. … We don’t know what it actually means, they told us by next Friday they will provide us with an update on where that communication is.”
Rios expressed disappointment that Border Patrol was not more open to a stay in construction.
“They will proceed with the planned breaking ground by some time in August,” he said.
Added Rios: “It could be the end of decades for a unique area where thousands of families come to see their loved ones, many are immigrants, many are not, it’s a special place that is unique in that way.”
Border Report contacted CBP about Wednesday’s meeting with Rios and the others and about the status of the project and its timeline.
An agency spokesperson wrote the agency would stand by the following statement issued earlier this week:
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recognizes the value of having a safe meeting place for families and friends on both sides of the border. Upon completion of the San Diego Friendship Circle Project, including the replacement of a secondary barrier with a pedestrian gate in this area, we will identify opportunities to provide the public with access once it is operationally safe to do so. While these opportunities will continue to need to be based on other U.S. Border Patrol operational requirements, the replacement construction project will not be an impediment to potential opportunities for future access in this location. Upon completion of discussions with stakeholders and receipt of the schedule from the construction contractor, CBP will determine when construction will commence.”